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Poster: bkidwell Date: Apr 17, 2011 6:58am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

I believe that in comparison to later years, Jerry played much more simple and direct melodic patterns and rhythms during the great 68-69 era. Often in the jams he stays mostly in a conventional rock/blues pentatonic scale, and plays a lot of ascending and descending triplet patterns, keeping the rhythmic subdivision and accentuation locked in to the drummers.

This style is beloved by a lot of heads, myself among them, and I understand why the gradual disappearance of this style of music is bemoaned. In the late years, it seems like it was only in "The Other One" jams that Jerry would build his improvisation by digging into a standard pentatonic triplet figure and moving sequences up and down the scale in tight rhythm with the drummers. In an interview, he stated that most of his playing in the early years was "embarassing" to him, and I wonder if he thought it was in some ways musically naive.

We know that hearing Miles Davis in his "Bitches Brew" period had an extraordinary impact on both Garcia and Lesh, and I hear the amazing jams of the 72-74 band to derive not solely from having just one drummer, but also from a reinvention of musical vocabulary, changing from a language based in rock and blues to one that mixes jazz, folk, and avant-garde noise. I would associate "Playing in the Band" strongly with these developments, because the way Jerry approached its jam seemed to serve as the breeding ground for a lot of the riffs that were essential to his style going forward.

Rhythmic entrainment is the big distinction, to my ears. To oversimplify, I would say that post-1970, Jerry preferred staying off the main beat and primary subdivision rather than emphasizing it. I think this was brilliantly successful when he and the band were at the top of their game, but in the post retirement era after 1975, the inner rhythmic spring of the music sometimes didn't exist at all and the band sometimes sounded loose and awkward with no "swing", or the drummers would lock into a unit that was entrained with itself but not with the more flexible rhythm that Jerry and Phil were trying to create.

In the analysis of European classical music, we have the written notation to provide an objective basis for claims. Someday I hope computer transcription of audio recordings will let us study the performances of the Dead with a similar level of detail and nuance. In the meantime, I'm curious if other listeners agree that Jerry was playing simpler lines and rhythms in the late 60s.

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Poster: midnightcarousel Date: Apr 17, 2011 9:35am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Really nice write-up, very thoughtful. Thanks.

You're right about his guitar playing being much simpler in the late sixties; Garcia was (and I think most deadheads are reluctant to admit this) a _very_ limited player, at least in terms of technique and general music-theoretic approach. What makes him special is his overall tastefulness and lack of ego, as well as his endless flow of musical ideas.

I am a firm believer that Jerry became a much better guitarist throughout the early-to-mid-1970's. I think the 1975-1977 era saw him at his most developed; by 1975 (probably very much due to his collaborations with more jazz-oriented musicians like Merl Saunders) he had a much richer musical vocabulary. In the sixties his playing was limited to a rather small number of raunchy, bluesy licks. Even in the beautiful Dark Stars from this era, you can hear how limited of a player he is. He really started to expand outward with his style in the 70s; this is why I am so angst-ridden by guys like Tell, who don't go past 1971. That's just so sad to me.

Unfortunately, just as his playing started to become really full, drugs started deteriorating his technique. To me, virtually everything from the 80s and 90s is really really sad because Jerry usually just can't make it, at least to my ears. Makes me wish they had split up after 1981 and parted ways - Jerry might still be alive.

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Poster: unclejohn52 Date: Apr 17, 2011 10:30am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Yes indeed, very thoughtful post, and I am in agreement with MC and DD, especially "What makes him special is his overall tastefulness and lack of ego, as well as his endless flow of musical ideas." On top of that, his restraint and infinite ideas when playing rhythm guitar behind another soloist (JGB, Legion of Mary etc.) never fail to entertain and amaze me. Only comment I take some issue with "In the sixties his playing was limited to a rather small number of raunchy, bluesy licks." I think this is basically true up until 68, but by 69-70 his blues-lick bag was encyclopedic- he could use everything he'd ever heard.

And totally agree that the drugs destroyed his technique. A lot of notes are clipped, muffled, and gone are the longer, soaring melodic notes in solos, esp in the 90s. And even though his voice is shot, his phrasing and emotional touch remained a vital part of his performance - a reason why many of us still enjoy latter-day performances of SOTM and Black Muddy River. He still touches us deeply even with compromised tools.

He's still my favorite guitar player - he could do it all, sometimes not perfectly, but always with emotion, taste, certainty and musicality.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Apr 17, 2011 8:12pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Don't be sad; as I keep telling folks--I was at shows from 74 to 82, so I defn didn't "miss" it...just what I like to listen to now.

It's the same with Clapton, Bruce, etc; but energy and experimentation trumps technical prowess in some domains, and rock and roll is one of them. IMHO.

It's really no different than when folks tell me Jerry was never as "good" as so and so; right? For me, that misses the pt; thus, it makes perfect sense to me to say "early Jerry was 'better' than later" because I am not really looking for something along those lines...hope that makes sense!?

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Poster: clementinescaboose Date: Apr 17, 2011 11:21pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

first of all, very nice post bkidwell. i really like your analysis, and it's definitely sparked a nice discussion here.

i think i'd have to also disagree with you about the early years somewhat, MC. while its little argument that Jerry's technical skill vastly improved over the years, i think it is oversimplifying somewhat to say he was very limited/relied on a small range of bluesy licks. though in '65-much of '67 his playing is confined in this style, i think even by early '68 he is staring to break out of this mold. his lines were much more complex and jagged compared to standard blues playing. during early '68 i hear a distinct jazz-influenced sound/phrasing to his playing, especially in song like Clementine or the early Spanish jams.

and i think even by mid-69 thorough 1970 you can hear even more of an expansion out of the psychedelic-blues-rock type playing into a more diverse palate of county and folk that had an influence on his style, phrasing, and melody.

so forgive me if i sound ignorant, i am far less technically versed in music than you, i'm sure, but that's just my two cents.

This post was modified by clementinescaboose on 2011-04-18 06:21:38

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Apr 18, 2011 12:07am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: birth of the Garcia style

It's also worth remembering that the guy only started playing electric guitar in 1965. He'd done a little bit of rock & roll-style guitar before, and extensive work on folk-style acoustic and banjo, which didn't necessarily translate.
But you know how 'primitive' rock music in general was circa 1965! Like ground zero, almost. There were NO lead guitarists in rock music taking long improv solos at the time - maybe someone like Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds came the closest.
So for the first year or two, Garcia mainly studied R&B and blues bands to develop his playing, especially Freddie King.
As he said, "Freddie King is the guy that I learned the most volume of stuff from. When I started playing electric guitar with the Warlocks, it was a Freddie King album that I got almost all my ideas off of, his phrasing really."

It's also well to remember how heavily drenched the rock scene was with blues covers in the late '60s. Most of the top guitarists, like Clapton, Bloomfield etc, were strictly bluesmen. The Dead like many other bands basically started as a blues-rock outfit emulating the Stones, and the most popular element of early Dead shows was Pigpen's long blues covers. So it's somewhat remarkable that by '68 Garcia was expanding into 'psych-jazz' playing as much as he did.

And of course, until 1970, Garcia mainly played in just one band, with some other guys who were also fairly new to their instruments. I think this may be another reason for what you might call the lack of variety in his playing in the early years - they all basically developed by playing together, and his style naturally meshed with theirs.
His very rhythmic playing may in part come from his preference for lots of fast little notes, but it may also come from the need to rhythmically 'lead' the band and tie everyone's time together. For a year or two the band worked very intensely on time experiments, getting everyone to synchronize in overlapping time signatures.
So it makes sense that it would take a few years for him to start introducing more 'outside' styles (like, say, bluegrass) into the Dead mix; and you can also understand the challenge & joy for him when he hooked up later with very different-style players like Wales & Saunders who didn't share any musical vocabulary with his own band.
The Dead were essentially making up their own language as they went along (pilfering musical elements from far & wide, of course). An early show like, say, 9/3/67 may not have the technique to match shows of later years; but the energy, adventurousness, and desire to reach for something new & unheard are still striking.

Garcia kind of laid out his manifesto in early '67:
"What we're trying to do now is expand ourselves musically, and that means to get into other things that haven't yet been introduced into popular music... So we're someplace where we don't know that anybody else is in the same place, so there's no one guiding us at this point and we're just left to our own devices. We realize that the one thing we have to do is to continue to grow as musicians and to continue to expand our outlook on music...so we can continue to do new things."

And even early on, people noticed that the Dead were standing out from the blues-rock pack. Crawdaddy singled them out in late '66 as being exceptional; and this is from a Billboard review of the Monterey festival in '67:
"Their music is just as much for listening as dancing, and under many circumstances would be called jazz, not rock. When Al Kooper’s band got into the blues, and the Grateful Dead went off into 20-minute blues medley-variations, there was nothing aurally to indicate that this was part of a rock & roll or pop concert at all. It was experimental music based on the blues, and that’s jazz… The Grateful Dead had ideal program billing (midway Sunday night) but partially blew it by playing too long. The Dead are among the most musically intriguing of any rock groups, but they seem to be straying from the typical dance format more quickly than any of the others.”

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Apr 18, 2011 8:32am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: birth of the Garcia style

Thanks for your observations, which (as always!) represent great historical knowledge and deep understanding. Especially, I think the fact that Jerry in the 60s was often "carrying" the band is very important. Even though Rock Scully is an unreliable source, I think this passage is relevant (Living with the Dead, p. 150) :

"In July '68...Garcia's frustration is beginning to show. He's exasperated that Weir can never keep his guitar in tune or on time. [...] He isn't chunking down the rhythm so much as noodling, and for Jerry to play his solos he needs a solid musical bedrock under him. [...] In the ballrooms you want to keep everyone dancing, and the band is sliding out of the groove that keeps people moving. Onstage, Jerry brings Bobby back into focus through cues. Just an eyeball and some heavy-duty (loud) rhythm from Garcia and - just at the point where you think Bobby's totally lost - he drops right in on the button."

I think this is clearly part of why Jerry's late 60s style is more driving and straightforward - he wanted to be able to cut loose more, but the band needed him to be defining the central groove or they would drift off it.

I find it interesting that what was frustrating to Jerry at the time is an aspect of the music that many listeners really enjoy, which is hearing Jerry really driving the band so that his lead line is the rhythmic center of the music.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Apr 17, 2011 10:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Well, as much as I agree that 68-74 was the band's best years, I disagree that Jerry lost his skills in the 80s and 90s. I think he was a wonderful guitarist all the way through the fall of 94, and even the most mediocre shows are still spectacular music in an absolute sense. Part of the context for my initial post is a long-term listening and writing project I have been doing on "Playing in the Band" jams, and even the much maligned final few years feature some truly brilliant and profound music and lots of great Jerry. I think he was still breaking new ground as a musician all the way to the end. When I listen, I put a lot more weight on how good the best ten minutes is than how bad the worst ten minutes is, and most shows have a slice of greatness, somewhere.

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Poster: billydlions Date: Apr 17, 2011 10:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Do you think he was better in 1976 vs 1981? I'm not sure I agree, but what is our definition of better? I'll throw out a few examples that I can think of:

1) I believe his Jazz playing was much better in Reconstruction than it was with Legion of Mary (I really dont even think it's close).

2) I've always thought the 2nd Europe tour from 1981 showcased Jerry in a highly creative and technical manner, perhaps on par with the great playing in summer of 1974.

3) His playing in his own band from 1980-1983 has some of my favorite Jerry moments ever (I know this is a totally subjective statement).

Perhaps I'm too willing to overlook some of the sloppiness that existed, but I chalk that up to the drugs and not a decline in ability.

This is a debate that can go on and on and on....

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Poster: midnightcarousel Date: Apr 17, 2011 10:17am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

I've heard plenty of stuff from the early 80's that really turned me on, but they were few and far between. I don't think Jerry had really gone downhill until 1984 or so, but I still find him to be less consistent than he was in the 70's.

I think he had the _capability_ to be a better (read: more interesting/sophisticated, whatever that means) player in 1981 than 1976, but he just seemed to lack the energy to do it so much of the time.

That being said, I would love to be pointed towards those 1981 shows you were impressed with. I'll never completely give up on the 80s, I've just never heard something I wanted to listen to more than a few times.

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Poster: billydlions Date: Apr 17, 2011 10:35am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Many of those shows from Europe in 1981, especially 10-12 and 10-19-81. There's also 8-28-81, 12-5-81 and 12-9-81. I could rattle off way too many JGB shows, but I believe both the fall tours of 1981 and 1982 are mostly excellent. Perhaps you are correct in that Jerry's GD energy had gone down but he did seem to rise to the occasion when it came to his own band.

Even after all of my defending the early 80's over the years here, I find myself turning much more frequently to 1972-1975. In fact, I couldn't argue against 1974 having my favorite Jerry jams. So I can so your point of view MC. It's hard to beat the Eyes' solos (think 8-6-74) or Stronger Than Dirt from 8-13-75. I often wonder if the band would have developed differently in 1976 had Jerry not started his opiates habit.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Apr 18, 2011 7:13am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Hey BD(2!), just chiming in to say "hey"...it was reading the old post on Jerry's guitar playing (LIA posted link to one you and I spent a long time on a few yrs back) that made we want to say just that ("hey")...funny how long we've been kicking it around here, and you look back at those exchanges and realize "yup, it's really only for the newbies that we continue to expound" (ie, you and I went thru this all in great detail, blah, blah, blah).

Hope you're well.

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Poster: billydlions Date: Apr 18, 2011 6:27pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Hey Tell, thanks for the reach out. Cliff & I had some good exchanges back in those days with you always being the voice of reason of course. I felt bad that MC said she felt sorry for you for not liking (or listening to) the 70's, but you cant help liking what you like. Looking back at what I wrote I still stand behind what I said however my Grateful Dead listening has changed quite a bit since those days. I spend most of my time from 72-77 and the rest listening to JGB/GD from 1980-1983. I still do enjoy your 1968 shows from time to time and probably listened to those shows because of your posts!

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Poster: jds121291 Date: Apr 17, 2011 5:20pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

hey! hell yeah! an 8-6-74 eyes solo reference. thats only my most talked about musical piece on this forum. i fucking love it.

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Poster: elkdog Date: Apr 17, 2011 6:49pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Thanks for this post. I largely agree, and can't really match your eloquence. Posts like yours are one of the best things about online deadhead communities. Seriously. Thanks.

I was listening to 10-12-68 a couple of days ago and marvelling a bit at how simple Jerry's playing was, while still incredibly effective. I subscribe to the "Jerry peaked in 1982" school, and find his lyrical playing more engaging and inspiring for my own playing than the earlier pentatonic stuff. Jerry had such a fluid way of playing over the chords on 1st set tunes, and that's been a real focus for me lately. But the earlier stuff is still mighty compelling.

You're spot on with the connection between fusion-era Miles and those extended PITB's. When it works, it's absolutely amazing.

I tend to think that Jerry was afforded the luxury of exploring dynamics the way he did by the Dead's cutting edge sound system. Earlier (up to 1970) recordings show a tone not entirely unlike the Allman Brothers (though a sense of sonic space beyond what the ABB sought is audible in 1969 for sure), whereas the later shows feature not only more harmonically nuanced songwriting and playing (which latter I suspect was Phil's doing as much as anyone's), but a more spacious soundfield which allowed Jerry to explore clean tones, and to develop that marvelous, less-overdriven style of his that shaped his playing from then on out. What do you think of the technical side of things as a reason for the change in Jerry's playing? As a bluegrass guy, it seems like he may have been looking for the opportunity to play more chordally/with a wider vocab, and that the evolution of the Dead's sound system let him sound better doing that, whereas pentatonic playing kind of begs for the distortion that is, frankly, simpler to produce than immaculate clean tone. Was he playing to the capacity of the sound?

This post was modified by elkdog on 2011-04-18 01:43:27

This post was modified by elkdog on 2011-04-18 01:49:39

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Poster: deadpolitics Date: Apr 18, 2011 1:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

I'm currently on a mission back to 1982 to see what is going on. What I'm hearing is a snappy Jerry that can shred and wail and cry. Consistency is not a strong suit though.

I think my favorite years for Jerry's guitar playing have got to 75-76 with JGB. But I'm more of a Grateful Dead fan than a JGB fan because of the incredible dynamics and lush arrangements. As has been said before Jerry really liked being "set up" during his solos, playing off the band. You see this tendency come out very early in their history. Stayed true for a long time, except those nights when Jerry was in his own world...

While technological innovation was very important in the GD developing their sound, I think it is the band chemistry and individual yet complementary talents of the members that is more directly related to Garcia's use of dynamics.

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Poster: Dudley Dead Date: Apr 17, 2011 8:20am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Something that is not often brought out , is , as much as we all love the earlier Dead , Garcia was still learning the improvisational thing .I.e. his musical vocabulary was limited ( did some awesome things with those limits )!.
One of the thing I love about him was how he always kept trying to grow , to learn . Whatever his limits, ( he was not John Coletrane ) he mostly tried his best to serve the music . His taste and restraint, and the resulting soulfulness, is rare in music , and especially so in the Rock guitar hero world .
I totally agree with your post-retirement analysis . As much as I love this band to the end, the rhythmic messiness, and lack of "swing", is sometime frustrating ... but I still listen to stuff even in that late 92-95 era .
Interesting post .

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Poster: Capt. Cook Date: Apr 17, 2011 7:12pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

I had a guitar teacher explain to me that Garcia's playing was much more developed in terms of melody and chord structure as he developed in the 70's and 80's. Many of his early guitar solo's are simple and blues-based and while the jams are much more intense, the actual notes are pretty simple. Jerry developed a true jazz style and sense in the 70's. As he got older he slowed down in both endurance and intensity, but his available notes, his palatte continued to broaden.... A true artist always improves - I mean Picasso was even more brilliant at the end of his life than in his youth...

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Apr 17, 2011 11:13am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Someday maybe performances like the 4/8/72 Dark Star will be studied in music schools.
If you're looking at Playing in the Band as a turning point, I wonder.... Gradually in '72, they do drop the rhythm in the Playing jam. But that happens to coincide with Keith's arrival; with a pianist present, Garcia may have felt less need to stay on the rhythm in his playing. I also feel that his playing with Wales had a big effect on how he approached jams in the GD - compare the spaces in the 1/26/72 Wales show with Garcia's Europe '72 meltdowns, for instance.

This is an older thread debating when Garcia was at his peak as a guitarist. Lots of vitriol & little agreement, but also lots of interesting thoughts:
http://www.archive.org/post/281085/garcias-mad-skills

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Poster: ringolevio Date: Apr 17, 2011 4:24pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

Thanks for the thread - I learn a lot from threads like this.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Apr 18, 2011 4:40am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Musical clarity, simplicity, and Garcia's late 60s improvisational style

What, ya don't learn a lot from threads on magic underwear and Weird wedding apparel? :-)

Seriously, I do too. I feel like I should take notes. If I remember 10 percent of it, I'll be pretty happy! Well, some people exercise their aging brains with crossword puzzles; I attempt to grasp these musical discussions. (Which means it's healthy, too! Good rationale, eh?)